In December 2011, the French government ordered 30,000 women who had received breast implants that had been produced by Poly Implant Prothese (or PIP as the company has become known in the press) to have their breast implants removed by a plastic surgeon.  In addition to the 30,000 French women, more than 40,000 British women had also received implants from this company, and they too, though at a later date, were advised to have the breast implants removed. 

Why Should Women Have Elective Surgery Reversed?  

According to reports in the British newspaper the Guardian and numerous French news sources, starting as early as 2001, Poly Implant Prothese had used industrial strength silicon to fill the implants, a substance generally used to manufacture computer parts. These implants, according to studies following the exposure of the company’s cost cutting measures, were also far more likely to burst than other breast implants, causing infections and other health problems.  Concerns about the development of cancer were also voiced.  As of early 2012, cancer had not been linked to these implants, yet doctors in both Britain and France wanted women to have the implants removed to prevent any serious side effects. 

With these concerns, many patients and their advocates are arguing that countries should work to ban breast augmentation, especially augmentation that is for cosmetic reasons rather than that done for reconstructive purposes after mastectomies to treat breast cancer or other health concerns.  

Banning Elective Cosmetic Surgery?

Despite the health concerns that arose because of the PIP scandal, legislating a ban on breast augmentation surgery and breast implants is not the answer. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, National Clearinghouse of Plastic Surgery Procedural Statistics, nearly 300,000 breast augmentations and reconstructive surgeries were performed in 2010 in the United States, and the rate of complications is fairly low. Two types of implants are available in the United States: silicone and saline

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For many years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had privileged saline-filled implants over silicone implants for safety reasons. Silicone implants, however, have been under surveillance and have gone through numerous testing phases since 1976.  The development and production of both saline and silicone implants have been closely monitored by the FDA.

According to a 2011 Food and Drug Administration study, the agency concluded that silicone-filled implants provided a reasonable amount of safety during the implants’ ten-year lifecycle.  Importantly, the FDA determined that enough research and safety findings exist to allow women to make a well-informed decision with their doctor about the safety and appropriateness of breast augmentation.  

Much cosmetic surgery is the choice of those who are having it done. Women who choose to have a breast augmentation surgery, or any medical procedure, should know the risks and complications associated with those medical procedures. But ultimately, the choice concerning those dangers should be the woman’s to make and not the choice of legislative bodies.